Students learn glacier mass balance measurement

   TwitCount

Within the framework of the Norway-funded Cryosphere Monitoring Project, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain development (ICIMOD) carried out a theoretical and practical training on glacier mass balance measurements recently.

The theoretical part of the training was conducted for participants from the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology of the Government of Nepal, and students from the Kathmandu and the Tribhuvan University from 21 to 24 October 2013. 

Photo credit: Sharad Joshi/ICIMOD

Photo credit: Sharad Joshi/ICIMOD

Participants were taught the theoretical background and methods to measure the glacier mass balance as well as risk management and safety considerations in extreme environments. A health professional from the CIWEC Clinic talked about health risks in the high altitudes, including prevention, symptoms, and treatment of acute mountain sickness, and more severe forms of altitude sickness. A veteran mountain guide gave an introduction to mountaineering and taught basic mountaineering techniques.

For practical experience, the participants joined the expedition to Yala Glacier in the Langtang Valley of Nepal from 8 to 23 November 2013. Access to the glacier required a bus journey and several days of walking which helped acclimatize the participants to the demanding work on the high altitude glacier. The trek from 1,500 m up to 5,100 m led through small villages and settlements and different vegetation zones, from dense forests through bush land into a landscape with dry mountain meadows to a high alpine environment dominated by rock, ice, and snow. 

Photo: Sharad Joshi/ICIMOD

Photo: Sharad Joshi/ICIMOD

On the glacier, the teaching team from ICIMOD demonstrated methods to measure the glacier changes and the motivated students practiced the newly gained skills by taking glacier measurements. The hardy Sherpas supported the measurements by carrying the heavy instruments and digging snow pits and helping to drill holes into the glacier ice for density measurements and to install bamboo stakes. 

An academic from Kathmandu University introduced the trainees to the climate measurements recorded at the automatic weather station at the glacier base camp. The glacier measurements consist mainly of stake readings that tell how much the glacier surface melted down, and combined snow depth and density measurements that give information about how much snow was added to the glacier. The sum of the added snow and lost ice mass of the glacier is the called the glacier mass balance. The glacier mass balance measurements are important because they are a direct climate indicator for the measurement period for the respective area. 

Photo credit: Sharad Joshi/ICIMOD

Photo credit: Sharad Joshi/ICIMOD

The expedition team was lucky to have gorgeous weather with a lot of sunshine, little wind, and clear cold nights. However, the exceptional high amounts of snow from the extensive post-monsoon precipitation and the cyclone Phailin made moving around at the base camp and on the glacier harder. The expedition was a great educational experience for the trainees with a successful glacier measurement campaign.